What became a foregone conclusion several weeks ago is now official. The 2008 Orioles will finish the season with a losing record, extending the franchise's string of ineptitude to 11 straight losing seasons.
They made sure of that yesterday with a doubleheader pitching performance that encapsulated more than a decade of failure and proved, once again, how woefully overmatched they are against American League playoff contenders.
Orioles pitchers walked 10 batters, including five by free-falling starter Daniel Cabrera, in a 12-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins in Game 1. Garrett Olson then went out and set a new low for an uninjured Orioles starter this year, surrendering six runs and getting just two outs in the nightcap, a 12-6 defeat in front of an announced 21,712 at Camden Yards.
"The guys did what they can do. But the pitching was not good. When you take your starter out in the first inning, that ought to paint the picture pretty good," said manager Dave Trembley, who used nine pitchers in the two games and had Brian Burres pitch in each contest. "How many darn trips am I taking out of the dugout? I am wearing a darn path out from the dugout out to the mound. ... Right now, it's a tough pill to swallow."
A day after Trembley met with his team and urged his players to embrace its role as spoiler and finish the season strong, the Orioles (65-82) were thoroughly throttled by a team that hadn't won a road game against an AL East team in nine tries before yesterday. The Orioles have lost 19 of their past 23 games, their annual late-season swoon growing worse by the day.
Yesterday's two-game display was reminiscent of last year's doubleheader sweep by the Texas Rangers. In the two games, the Orioles were outscored 39-10. That included the 30-3 loss in Game 1, which is considered one of the lowest points of the Orioles' 11-season losing streak, eclipsed only by the Pittsburgh Pirates' current 16 straight losing seasons.
The low points yesterday included allowing two home runs in Game 1 to Twins leadoff man Denard Span, who entered the afternoon with four home runs on the season, and a two-triple nightcap from Matt Tolbert, who previously had just one. There was Cabrera's latest confounding performance in the first game and the worst start of Olson's career in the second one.
Then, there was Ramon Hernandez's jogging to first base after hitting a ground ball in the eighth inning of Game 1, giving first baseman Justin Morneau ample time to handle a bouncing throw. Hernandez was replaced at catcher by Omir Santos the next inning.
Asked whether his Game 1 removal of Hernandez was a benching, Trembley said: "I'd prefer not to answer that. All you gentlemen being as acutely aware as you are, you can figure that one out on your own."
Trembley appeared far more ticked by the 10 walks his pitchers issued in the first game - one short of the season high - and the root of Cabrera's struggles. Cabrera has a 7.56 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break.
"I don't know what to tell you. I don't have an answer," Trembley said when asked about Cabrera. The Orioles manager did have plenty to say about his pitching staff's habit of issuing bases on balls. "It takes the air right out of the ball," he said. "That's what it does. It's hard mentally to keep any type of focus."
After Game 1, Trembley expressed hope that Olson would log innings and turn in a quality outing. Allowing six first-inning runs and the first five Twins he faced to reach base probably didn't qualify.
Only Matt Albers made a shorter start this season, when he was pulled after retiring just one Chicago Cub on June 25. However, Albers also had a shoulder injury that ended his season. Olson has no such excuse, at least not that the Orioles know of. What he does have is a 9.21 ERA in his past 12 starts.
By the third inning of Game 2, every Twins starter except Delmon Young and Adam Everett had driven in a run, and Minnesota led 10-2. Oscar Salazar hit a three-run homer, Adam Jones had two RBIs and Brian Roberts had three hits in the game for the Orioles.
But after a long and grueling day of baseball, such minor details mattered very little. The Orioles had clinched another losing campaign on a day that might as well have been a microcosm of their 11 consecutive years of losing.
"We knew it was going to be a long day. Just nothing went our way," Aubrey Huff said. "It's that part of the year. When you are in last place, you are just really, really trying to grind it out. It's easier said than done."